Food + Drinks

8 Lessons from the World's Largest Booze Convention

Our drinks columnist thought he knew it all. Here are some factoids that floored him.

More than 15,000 of the world's most hardcore mixology fans—and professionals—flew into New Orleans to experience this year's "Tales of the Cocktail". The five-day-long marathon is filled with pool parties, pairing dinners, special theme nights, and many nerdy seminars (I spoke at one called "A Better Understanding of Bitter Flavors"). I learned a ton of useless facts throughout the event. This one, which ended dramatically on Sunday with a sudden monsoon, proved full of unanticipated insights into our drinking habits. The oddest factoids are below.

1. Things Taste Sweeter When Warm
At different temperatures we perceive tastes differently. For example, melted ice cream tastes sweeter than frozen ice cream. Thus, "If you want to use less sugar in cocktails, serve them slightly warmer," said Tristan Stephenson of London bar Worship Street Whistling Shop.

Learned in the seminar: It's Time to Talk About Temperature

2. All Hangovers Are Made Equal
We always hear about how impurities in liquor give you a hangover, but what reporters neglect to mention is that plain old alcohol also gives you a hangover no matter how pure it is. (As proof, the speaker said his fellow scientists had a party where they drank pure ethanol and the next morning the results were as one might expect.) So it's not like eight shots of quintuple-distilled vodka is the equivalent hangover-maker of seven shots of bourbon—both situations will probably cause next-day regrets.

Learned in the seminar: Chemical Compositions

3. You Can Trademark a Drink
The Hand Grenade cocktail that comes in a signature green plastic cup, unmissable at several Tropical Isle bars along the always-crazy Bourbon Street, is a trademarked drink: Nobody else can call a cocktail by that name without risking a lawsuit. The business partners who invented it in 1985 still run the bars.

Learned in the seminar: Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, Shark Attacks

4. Cafés and Bars Are the New Record Stores
Favorite quote of the conference: "Now that there are no more record stores, (snobs) have moved on to coffee shops and cocktail bars." –Bacardi education director (and inventor of the Corpse Reviver Number Blue Jacob Briars.

Learned in the seminar: Behold the Trojan Horse!

5. Tiki Drinks Were First Designed for Women
The guy who invented the tiki cocktail category, Don the Beachcomber, initially made his drinks for women, using bright colors with floral garnishes. Then he found a way to get men to drink them—he made high-proof cocktails like the Zombie and told them they were only allowed to have two at the most. We are all suckers for a dare.

Learned in the seminar: Which Rum What Cocktail and Why?

6. Some Rums Used to be Aged in Goat Leather
According to the maker of Plantation Rum, in the old days, rums made in the Caribbean were not aged in barrels (because how many oak trees do you see in the Caribbean?), but often stored in goat leather sacks. Gross.

Learned in the seminar: Which Rum What Cocktail and Why?

7. There's a New Tequila Shot in Town
There is a bar called Analogue in Chicago that serves Old Fashioneds like they do tequila shots in college: Lick sugar off your hand, do a shot of rye, then bite into an Angostura Bitters-soaked orange. It sounds so wrong I can't wait to fly there and have one.

Learned in the seminar: The Old Fashioned: The Classic Cocktail

8. Vodka Is Still the Moneymaker
The most popular t-shirt at the Cocktail Kingdom store was the one that says "Vodka Pays the Bills." Despite the fancy mixological masterpieces and obscure bitter liqueurs from Inner Mongolia we're all obsessed with, bartenders are now able to laughingly admit that it's the flavorless mass-market vodka that sells the most drinks and keeps us all employed.

• • •

Also on
Summer's Coolest Cocktail Ingredient: Sugar Snap Peas
White Port: Mix Up a Refreshing Alternative to the Gin and Tonic
Cognac Cocktails: Brandy's Move to Bartender Favorite

Image courtesy of Gabi Porter Photography.
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